Straight talk from Tom Hanks on COVID-19 – there is a part we can all play

Last night, Tom Hanks was interviewed by Lester Holt on NBC News (the three plus minute interview can be linked to below). Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson caught COVID-19 while traveling and self-quarintined in Australia. Hanks tends to be worth listening to, as he speaks in a straightforward, reflective and unthreatening manner.

When Holt asked him about the concerns and uncertainties of many, Hanks noted how to address such by doing what is asked of us. Hanks said what we have been asked to do to help each other and our community is the least we can do. It is disappointing that it is even an issue as there is a part we all can play. Wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands. Something so simple that requires so little effort.

Hanks noted earlier that he and Rita are doing fine after quarantine and are participating in blood work studies now that they are back home. He said they both have fewer antibodies, so they remain at risk of getting a recurrence. He said their symptoms were a little different, with both feeling at first they were a little “punky.” They have been open about their illness, treatment and recovery so that people are aware.

Please watch the interview from the link below. It is refreshing to hear straight talk from someone who we feel we know from his career and how he has conducted himself. I kept thinking these are the simple messages more people in leadership positions should be saying.

https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/full-interview-tom-hanks-on-coronavirus-pandemic-87167557813

COVID-19 cases and deaths climb in various states, but good news may be coming

We have long learned to deem any information coming from the US president as NOT factual. We will have fewer surprises that way. We have also learned the vice president is not too believable either. Both people tell us how the US COVID-19 numbers are improving in advance of the president beginning his applause seeking pep rallies.

Yet, Reuters reported yesterday that cases and deaths are significantly increasing in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. My home state of North Carolina is also seeing increases, which is why the governor could not confirm a full house for the GOP convention in August, which led to its movement to Florida, which has a worse problem. And, the US is now past 118,700 COVID-19 deaths, which is 27% of the global COVID-19 deaths, with the US having only 5% of the population.

But, some good news is on the horizon. Reuters reported today the following:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was moving to update its guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 to reflect results of a clinical trial that showed a cheap, common steroid can help save critically ill patients.

Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.
The WHO’s clinical guidance for treating patients infected with the new coronavirus is aimed at doctors and other medical professionals and seeks to use the latest data to inform clinicians on how best to tackle all phases of the disease, from screening to discharge.

Although the dexamethasone study’s results are preliminary, the researchers behind the project said it suggests the drug should immediately become standard care in severely stricken patients…

The positive news comes as coronavirus infections accelerated in some places including the United States and as Beijing cancelled scores of flights to help contain a fresh outbreak in China’s capital.

‘This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,’ WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement late on Tuesday. The agency said it was looking forward to the full data analysis of the study in coming days.”

Let’s hope this dexamethasone does the trick. I know we need something to stem the pandemic growth here and elsewhere. Having large rallies indoors is not conducive to stemming the growth and, sadly, neither are the protests for Black Lives Matter, even though they are outside, which helps some. Unfortunately, altruism does not get you a hall pass, so please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Brazil, Russia and America – tell tale signs

Three countries that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are Brazil, Russia and America. A key similarity is their three leaders down-played the pandemic. And, Messers. Jair Bolsonaro, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump continue their misinformation to this day.

A pandemic expert who participated in a Bush task force on pandemics, said mission one is to tell people the truth. He noted Singapore remained opened, but the leaders told people the truth, told them what they needed to do with social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, testing, and tracing, and because of being truthful, people did what they were asked. Singapore has had a far better handle on this than these three countries.

In an article in The HuffPost called “Brazil is the new epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic” by Travis Waldron, the following quote jumps off the screen, “Bolsonaro’s denial and incompetence have led to a predictable surge in cases.” Brazil has had national two health directors resign in the last two months over differences with the Bolsonaro who has been encouraging gatherings and shaking hands in public. Brazil has roughly 7% of the global COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin has also downplayed not only the virus, but has made sure the numbers are watered down. While publishing 7% of the global COVID-19 cases, the deaths have been published at only 1%. Per a Time article, “Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin admitted on May 7, the real number of infections in the capitol city was at least three times higher than the official figure.” Putin’s folks deny that the number fudging is happening. But, we should never forget how leaders in the predecessor Soviet Union denied the massive problem of the Chernobyl meltdown.

Not to be outdone, the US leads the way. With about 5% of the global population, the US has over 31% of the COVID-19 cases. The US president actually said this was a “badge of honor” due to our testing. Yet, we have not done near enough testing and people getting sick is not a badge of honor. Further, we have 28% of the reported global deaths. From the outset, the president naysayed, downplayed, even said the Democrats were making this into a hoax. The misinformation continues to this day with false bravado, failing to push national interventions on masks and testing, not wearing a mask, promoting cures, citing incorrect data and even stating we should try to ingest disinfectant. But, the key is we missed 6 weeks of planning to prepare ourselves and that failing rests on the shoulders of the person we needed to be presidential.

Fortunately, governors of both political parties have made more fact based decisions based on their states. And, for the most part, the American people have come together to help each other. The governors who have tried to follow the president’s lead, find themselves risking their populations more than they should. And, one that tried to read the president’s mind, found himself criticized by the president when the public reacted negatively. The sad truth is the US president’s mission one is not telling the truth – it never has been on any issue – it is to make himself look good and win the reelection. When someone makes decisions based on errant goals, the problem will continue.

The hard truth is COVID-19 will linger with us for some time and will spike again in cases and deaths. Some of that uptick is occurring now in areas. COVID-19 cares not about geography or party. The president is not incorrect when he says more testing increases the number of detected cases, but that is only part of the story. The more people gather together, the pandemic will rear its ugly head and increase occurrences. We must be smart about how we interact with society and others in the many months ahead. And, we need people in leadership positions to tell the truth.

Yet another “disgruntled” former employee

Why is it that people who are critical of the president’s are “losers,” “disasters,” “haters,” “liars” or in some cases “ugly?” The last one he has used a couple of times, implying they are too ugly for Trump to have considered sexually (assaulting is the context). If they are current employees, they are members of the “deep state” out to get him. But, if they are a former employee, “they are disgruntled.” These are all code words for his base to ignore the criticism as it is undue.

Well, one thing is for certain, there are a lot of all of the above folks out there saying critical things. Why is that? Is it easier to believe that everyone else is lying or that a person known for being untruthful is? On Sunday night, “60 Minutes,” will air an interview with another whistleblower, Dr. Rick Bright, who was let go because he did not like the path the president was going down on the COVID-19 response and tried to intervene.

Our country is all about civil discourse. We have the right to question our leaders. Yet, if one of my criticisms got enough airplay to garner his attention, I would be labeled a “loser.” I am far from perfect, but this imperfect person has every right to question the president of the United States. For example:

– Nixon committed a crime and tried to cover it up.
– Carter could have handled the Iran hostage situation better.
– Reagan illegally sold weapons to that same Iran to fund Contra rebels in Central America.
– Bush, the elder, raised taxes after saying he would not.
– Clinton had an affair in the White House and lied about it.
– Bush, the younger, invaded Iraq under false pretenses – there were no WMDs and he knew it.
– Obama drew a red-line which Syria crossed and did not act.

Trump has extorted a foreign country for personal gain, condoned multiple communications with Russia siding with them over US intelligence and lied, bullied and demonized anyone who dare criticizes him. Yet, none of his predecessors have name-called critics like the current incumbent. My grandmother would say, if you name call, it means you have a poor argument.

Take it to the bank, the president and his henchmen will go out of their way to discredit Dr. Bright. Yet, given the many missed opportunities to get ahead of the pandemic risk, we shoud pay attention to someone who knows what it means to criticize the vindictive president. These folks show far more courage than this president reveals.

Relaxing shelter-at-home requirements must be done judiciously with health in mind

As Georgia governor Brian Kemp more aggressively lifted restrictions yesterday, joining other states like South Carolina, Oklahoma, etc., a concern that is not getting talked about enough is some of these same states have the worst national health care rankings. More on this below. Per two separate surveys in the past few days, 70% of Americans want the focus to be on health first, before reopening. Americans seem to get where the focus needs to be more so than some leaders.

I understand the desire to reopen more fully, but we must be smart about it. I was pleased to see the North Carolina governor Roy Cooper extend the shelter-at-home requirement for two weeks, but actually announcing a three phased plan to reopen. That is what is needed. It could be postponed if the numbers do not improve, but it is an articulated plan.

This is a state-by-state issue. The relative health of the state is important as it increases the relative risk. The Commonwealth Fund is an organization that measures the relative health of a state based on a number of factors and have been doing so for years. A link below is to the 2019 state rankings. As you think about states that are reopening sooner than others, consider the following:

The worst twelve states (and District of Columbia) for overall healthcare, from worst to twelfth worst, are as follows:
51 – Mississippi
50 – Oklahoma
49 – Texas
48 – Nevada
47 – Arkansas
46 – West Virginia
45 – Louisiana
44 – Florida
43 – Missouri
42 – Georgia
41 – South Carolina
40 – Tennessee
39 – Alabama

The Commonwealth Fund uses a robust number of variables to rank the states and is one of the more comprehensive tools. These states tend to have a higher degree of obesity (BMI greater than or equal to 30), some have a greater degree of child hood obesity, and have a greater degree of people who claim poor health. With the higher degree of obesity comes higher propensity of diabetes, although this data is inconsistently reported. Please click on the link and go through the most recent report.

Obesity and diabetes are critical factors. Data from the COVID-19 reported this week noted diabetics are not faring well when diagnosed. People with breathing difficulties – asthma, COPD, etc. also are at greater risk. It should be noted Florida ranks poorly on childhood asthma. Again, this is an underreported data point in other states.

Another key factor for poor ratings is access to health care providers and insurance. Many of these states did not expand Medicaid. Many of these states have seen more rural hospitals close than others. Many of these states have more food deserts and higher degrees of drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicides.

I mention all of the above, as the states have varying degrees of preparedness and risk exposure. In fact, many businesses have noted they are ignoring the governor’s orders to reopen their doors. That is also telling.

I get it. I understand the desire to reopen the doors. I also know pandemic diseases spread more readily than other diseases. If we do venture out – please use social distancing and face masks. There are many restaurants who are practicing good procedures to protect the staff and customers through take out and delivery orders. Support their efforts. That is a way to invest in our economy.

And, please listen to the truthtellers, the doctors, nurses and disease scientists. Listen to the folks not patting themselves on the back or making the issue more political. Facts must trump politics. But, we should also be mindful, we are learning more about this virus with increasingly better data. Just because new data sets aside a previous notion, that is not unusual with pandemic risks. AIDs and Ebola revealed this based on their initial discoveries (AIDs was thought to impact only gay men at first, until women and heterosexuals started dying, eg).

These truthtellers understand this is an uphill climb. We must be vigilant and patient. And, judicious and humble.

https://scorecard.commonwealthfund.org/rankings/

Stupid question

Stupid question. If Trump wants to look presidential, why did he forego alerting us to the risk of COVID-19 back in January? That would have been leadership. Yet, when he could have told the truth forewarning us, he reverted to form to lie and downplay the risk. This is beyond poor stewardship. The truth seems to get lost in most Trump calculations.

Here is what a real leader might have said. “My fellow Americans, we need to prepare ourselves for a virus that will likely hit our shores. COVID-19 appears to spread easily.

I will establish a pandemic team comprised of public health and medical leadership. The purpose will be to work with state leadership to assess the needs of various hospitals and communities. I will engage with Congress to be ready to step in and help.

I hope and pray that this virus will be less problematic. But, we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Thank you.”

If the current president had done that, his standing would have improved.

Former Trump official is voice that the GOP needs to hear

Morgan Chalfont of The Hill has penned a piece called “Scott Gottlieb becomes key voice warning Trump GOP on coronavirus” (see link below). Gottlieb is the former Trump appointed director of the Food and Drug Administration who resigned his position for personal reasons after two years. Per the article, Gottlieb is a doctor and cancer survivor and is well thought of by members of the GOP and others.

While he forewarned the White House and Congress at the end of January that COVID-19 was a major concern and called it pandemic before the WHO called it such, he apparently is making needed in roads. Even though the president has tried to rewrite history saying he did not naysay virus, he led the GOP efforts to downplay it, which is still amazing to me. Gottlieb’s comments finally broke through and his message is getting heard by the GOP in March.

The article notes a key reason he is getting heard is he is not indicting people, but that does not stop him from disagreeing with actions. In early March, he said the country is in for a hard couple of months. This kind of candor is needed and I am, at long last, glad people are listening.

Note this has not stopped the flow of misinformation from the president, but it is good to see the issue being addressed with more seriousness of purpose. I saw an editorial cartoon that is fitting – a person was praying for God to ask the president to stop talking. We need to hear more from those who have expertise and medical background like Drs. Fauci, Birx and Gottlieb.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/scott-gottlieb-becomes-key-voice-warning-trump-gop-on-coronavirus/ar-BB12cdCi?ocid=spartandhp

All over the place

My favorite conservative pundit is David Brooks, who appears every Friday on PBS Newhour and NPR to recap the events of the week. I have found his voice one of reason, even if I do not agree with everything he says. I have also read several of his books on subjects like building character and community.

He has been an even-tempered critic of actions, decisions and behaviors of the US president. Last Friday, he used the word “inconstancy” of the president as a great risk in addressing COVID-19. The president will change his position within the hour, he consistently misinforms where it needs to be corrected, and he naysayed the severity of the coronavirus through the end of February, so we lost six weeks.

And, the misinformation continues today. So, much that NPR and other news outlets stopped covering his press conferences live. Building off Brooks’ term, I would say the president governs “all over the place.” He will change his tune due to criticism in the news or if he likes a message from one of his sycophants.

One of the better news shows happens to be a comedy show called “Last Week Tonight” starring John Oliver. The focus of this past Sunday night show is the danger people are being placed under by poor leadership, but also by sycophants.

Oliver notes this theme that danger to the American economy is far worse than people dying is beyond misguided. It is dangerous. He highlights words by the president, conservative host Glenn Beck and the Lt. Governor of Texas who downplay the health risk and speak of economic Armsgeddon.

As Oliver points out it is easy to talk big with others taking the risk with their lives. Then Oliver points out the economic fall out of overwhelmed hospitals and people dying. We are witnessing even now the cost of early inaction.

We must focus on the health of people first and foremost. I fully understand the need to help financially people who are in need due to layoffs or hours reduction.

Yet, while we missed opportunities to plan, we cannot miss any more. We must listen to the truthtellers and ignore those who are politicizing and trying to obfuscate the truth.

As Oliver addressed critics, he said he wants the president to succeed at helping fight this virus. But, he cannot be when his primary mission is how he looks. Perhaps Brooks comment a few months back is the more pertinent one – the president lacks common decency and a sense of empathy. That speaks volumes.

Listen to the truthtellers – sample letter to editor

Misinformation and disinformation abound with COVID-19. The line we must use when we see incredulous Facebook posts or hear fabricated conspiracy theories (like Bill Gates concocted COVID-19 to make money), or the simple echoing of misinformation by the president, is “I would encourage you to listen to the truthtellers.” When asked, you can mention the doctors and scientists. If asked to elaborate further, you can say “Listen to the people not patting themselves on the back telling what a great job they are doing.”

Listen to the truthtellers

We need to listen to the truthtellers on the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ones who deliver facts, seek more data and don’t pat themselves on the back. They will also say we don’t know yet, more often than the back-patters.

An ER nurse earlier in the werk said what has surprised her is the number of people between ages 25 and 54 that are coming in with the virus. Last night, PBS (or it may have been ABC) reported that younger folks who have diabetes (or pre-diabetes) or asthma are at higher risk. So, everyone is at risk to some extent.

We are behind where we need to be due to both the naysaying (calling it a hoax) from the White House and sheepish other politicians, the elimination of the Global Pandemic group in 2018 and the elimination of some US CDC epidemiologists in China in 2019. We are doing things now that should have been planned back in January. The legislators were forewarned by National Security folks, so the pandemic risk was known.

Even still, too many have parroted the president’s early naysaying (which lasted to the end of February) and more have gotten sick or died, even a few parroters. This echo effect is what is dangerous given the misinformation which continues to today.

David Brooks, the conservative pundit, called the “inconstancy” of the president on these issues as a major risk. He cited the president’s downplaying of needed ventilators one hour and issuing an emergency declaration for more ventilators the next. He tends to react to remedy any bad press rather than plan ahead.

I heard yesterday, NPR and other news outlets are not broadcasting the White House press conferences wall-to-wall” due to the misinformation from the president. They do report on what the truthtellers are saying, as good information is discussed. But are they are not covering the president’s talking points live.

So, folks young and older need to listen to the doctors and truthtellers. Their lives may depend on it.

Sidebar: If one of your friends, colleagues, relatives, bosses or other co-workers routinely bragged on what a great job they were doing, what would you reaction be? If the boss’ direct reports bragged on the boss on a routine basis, again what would your reaction be? The same question should be asked when it happens at the uppermost leadership levels in our country.